It’s one thing to repeat the cliché that young people are the future, but quite another to realise that 43 per cent of all living people are under 25. The 1.8 billion people currently classified as youth—defined by WHO as aged 15-29—are not only the future, but also quite concretely the present.
Thankfully, there are countless examples of young people acting on their own initiative to counter weaknesses they perceive in the world, dedicating time, ingenuity and lives to reshaping the future.
Several speakers at the 2017 Ahimsa Forum fit this description, including Christian Vanizette (MakeSense), Linda Mafu (Global Fund), Richard Nijimbere (Maison Shalom) and Dylan Wilk (Human Nature), all of whom were very young when they embarked on the paths that brought them to the forum. But there could have been no more capable ambassadors for youth than the eight people who attended as youth representatives: Omer Cimpaye, Diego Cortez, Milagros Guzman, Lauren Herzog, Marine Kerdiles, Emaline Laney, Wilma Mui and Merveille Nkurunziza.
Among their contributions—including a sensitive and revealing public discussion of alternative futures with UN Director Michael Moller—were a series of interviews with forum speakers. Interviewees included Mafu, Nijimbere and Wilk, along with Kevin O’Brien (Handa Foundation), Mukesh Kapila (University of Manchester), Saba Al Mubaslat (Humanitarian Leadership Academy), Shamona Kandia (TransNet Foundation), Stefanie Weiland (LifeNet), Zeina Abdo (Smile for Hope), Renier Koegelenberg (EFSA Institute for Theological and Interdisciplinary Research) and Gideon Byamugisha (INERELA+), and all the talks are reproduced in full on the Ahimsa website. They provide an insightful complement to the forum report, containing more personal reflections on the stories told on the panels.
If you could merge their visions of the future, this is what you might see:
Strong partnerships between Ahimsa and others making good health contagious, backed by a mass social movement of health-competent people who are spiritually empowered, technologically trained, and ecologically aware. These people will be innovative, creative, productive and sensitive to social challenges, injustices and inequity.
Despite this, the world will be one of struggle, of a great many battles—essential conflicts of ideas, of right and wrong, of opposed values.
In this struggle, the organisations and networks that come together under the umbrella of the Ahimsa forum will have matured into an ecosystem of financially sustainable initiatives reaching out and connecting religious and other bodies around the world in the spiritual, physical, and social healing of their communities.
Health rights will be acknowledged global rights, embracing egalitarian health care as a core part of a global vision for humanitarianism. People in areas currently considered resource-limited will be emancipated and economically empowered, and the world will have foregone charity in favour of synergy, exchanging experiences through facilitators and agents who empower the vulnerable.
The vast majority of people will no longer be suspicious of investing in social entrepreneurship, but will see it as a pillar of equitable, sustainable development. Fundamentally, people will concentrate more on what they can share than on their differences.
Of course, achieving this vision is an ambitious ideal, could only be done in time, and will entail huge sacrifice for many—not just of time and resources, but also in relinquishing quite justifiable grievances. It places huge responsibility in the hands of the young.
In this context, the interviewees—who themselves present an incredible collection of stories of self-sacrifice and achievement in adversity—were asked what advice they might offer young people.
Distilled, that advice amounts to something of an Ahimsa codex, and it sounds like this:
Engage. Don’t wait. Ensure you participate in the world and are productive in whatever way you can. Believe that you matter, that you’re important, and that you can contribute.
Demand to know: it’s your right. Believe in learning. If you’re floundering, if you’re not sure where you need to be, if you’re unconvinced of the worthiness of your lives and the path you’ve chosen, move into the world and seek experiences you can take back to your community.
Discover your own model. Continue to ask questions until you’re satisfied that you have the truth; you are inheriting the world as is, but you don’t have to accept it and you shouldn’t take it for granted. Be open to connecting, forming communities of ideas, not just communities at school or college or online. Think of “community” in an open, bigger way.
Be prepared for reality: you may not be as rich, as well off, or as secure as your parents. You will face more turbulence, insecurity and unpredictability.
Do not be pessimistic in the face of that uncertainty: find new approaches. Treat the past not as a prison, but as a platform to launch into the future. Examine history, apply context, and learn lessons; but remember the future is uncharted.
Believe in yourself, not what people say about you, or what you think society wants you to be. Seek self-esteem and self-belief, and use them to make tomorrow better than today.
Build networks and alliances; collaborate. Express your perspective: young people’s involvement in leadership, governance, planning, and evaluating is critical.
When, inevitably, you experience hardship, “cry to carry on.” Don’t give up. Keep going. Things will improve.
Your community is a valuable resource; seek help if you need it. Don’t allow hardship to harden you, because then you will lose humanity, the Ubuntu heart. Ubuntu means, “I am, because we are.”
Work! There is a lot of need and a lot of demand. Seek out good mentors. Train as much as you can.
If you’re coming from the developed world or a privileged background, there is always demand for work in developing countries; but come when you have experience and the ability to contribute.
—These are high standards, hard to meet. But at heart, this is a simple enough set of rules. As a blueprint for youth, it makes the Ahimsa vision significantly more realistic.
Perhaps most practical, though—if you want the elevator pitch—was Dylan Wilk’s contribution. Three very simple rules, he said, will guarantee success in life:
First, don’t quit.
Second, don’t even think about quitting.
Third, whatever happens… still don’t quit.